Most of us don’t welcome the news of learning we have a cavity. The good news is that advances in today’s dental materials and techniques offer new and more comfortable approaches to repairing cavities and creating attractive, natural-looking smiles. Materials such as ceramic and plastic compounds closely mimic the appearance of natural teeth and are popular choices among patients who want their teeth to look as natural as possible.
White fillings, also known as composite fillings, are made of tooth-colored resins that restore the natural appearance of a decayed tooth, or one that was previously filled. Composite fillings blend seamlessly with tooth enamel and don’t look at all like traditional silver, or amalgam, fillings. This makes composite an excellent choice in restoring teeth at the front of the mouth.
How are tooth-colored fillings placed?
Composite fillings usually require only one visit, generally about an hour in duration. One of the biggest advantages of composite fillings over other methods is the ability to securely bond to teeth. That means less of a tooth’s natural structure is removed to hold the filling in place.
A person’s teeth must be filled or restored for a variety of reasons, with decay and chipping two of the most common. However, whether a patient chooses amalgam or composite fillings, the procedure is nearly identical: The area is anesthetized (usually via numbing injection), and the tooth is prepped for restoration by removing existing decay. Next, the filling material is placed directly into the tooth where it bonds securely.
The amalgam difference
In order to achieve a reliable structural bond with a traditional amalgam filling, a dentist must often intentionally shape the tooth by making a series of undercuts to help hold the filling material in place. This process requires some of the healthy tooth material to be removed, leaving less of the tooth’s natural foundation intact.
Composite resin fillings, on the other hand, don’t require undercutting to make a strong bond. Instead, they form a bond directly to the prepared tooth, which typically leads to a better and longer-lasting restoration.
The procedure for composite fillings can take a bit longer than for, say, silver fillings because once the decay is removed the tooth must be kept completely isolated from saliva. The dentist accomplishes this by carefully applying an adhesive and several thin layers of tooth-colored composite. The filling is then chemically hardened, or cured, with a special light; a process that takes less than one minute.
Composites are generally preferable for cosmetic reasons, but larger decayed areas may respond better to other types of material or restoration. Another consideration with composites is that some people may experience sensitivity to hot and/or cold temperatures for a few days or up to a week.
Some composite fillings are more expensive than other materials but most patients feel the natural-looking restorations are well worth it. Keep in mind that white fillings are like other dental materials and may require periodic replacement. For example, if the edge of the filling pulls away from the tooth, bacteria can get between the filling and the enamel and cause decay. Decay can also develop elsewhere on the tooth, so regular dental checkups are always important.
Using Tooth-Colored Fillings
Composite resins work well for small to medium-sized fillings. They are very durable, fracture-resistant, and adept at withstanding chewing pressure. Some procedures can be accomplished in just one visit, while larger procedures require a follow-up.
Of course, the best way to decide if tooth-colored fillings are right for you is to schedule a dental consultation. Your dentist can fully explain the various options and help you with the best one.
These days, tooth-colored fillings are used more often than amalgam or gold fillings, largely due to cosmetic reasons. Many people are very keen on having bright white smiles that can achieve as much with fillings that blend with the natural color of their teeth.
Remember that no dental filling lasts forever. In fact, some studies show that composite fillings can be less durable and must be replaced more often than amalgam fillings. Ultimately, the best dental filling is no dental filling and prevention is always the best medicine. Keep your risk of cavities and other dental diseases in check by brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, eating a balanced diet, and getting regular dental checkups.